Reviewing the reviewers by Rosemary Loughlin

Reviewing the reviewers by Rosemary Loughlin

The UK and Irish press response to Elizabeth Winkler’s book including scoreboard!

Following the release of Elizabeth Winkler’s seminal book Shakespeare Was a Woman and Other Heresies – How Doubting the Bard Became the Biggest Taboo in Literature on this side of the Atlantic on 9 June, Oxfordians and other Shakespeare authorship skeptics have followed with interest the UK press response and more recently that in Ireland. Before I delve into the reviews, I have to say this is a most extraordinary and welcome book in the field of Shakespeare scholarship. That it comes to the question of authorship with a thorough journalistic analysis is refreshing and opens up the field of interest. But this is no mere clinical analysis (although it is that too!): it was a joy to read from cover to cover – witty, entertaining and highly informative. I have no doubt that it will, in time, enter the annals of one of the most important books of the 21st Century and that a film about Elizabeth’s sleuthing travels will manifest!


The Telegraph

First out of the traps was Professor Jonathan Bate, writing for The Telegraph on 28 May – Was Shakespeare really a woman? And does Taylor Swift know him best? (side note – he was also reviewing Searching for Juliet by Sophie Duncan).

Of course this headline was completely twisting the content of Winkler’s book, insinuating that she is saying Shakespeare is a woman. The book title flows from Winkler’s groundbreaking article for The Atlantic in 2019, entitled Was Shakespeare A Woman? where she wondered, given the extraordinary female characters in Shakespeare’s plays, had anyone ever proposed that their creator might be a woman, looking in particular at Emilia Lanier, née Bassano.

Bate asserted that the author of The Merchant of Venice and Othello was ignorant that Venice had canals (thereby supporting the thesis that Stratford Will, who is not known to have travelled, was ignorant of Italy). He follows hot on the heels of so many other Stratfordians who love (and from what I see always mistakenly) to point at what they consider errors or gaps in Shakespeare’s knowledge, imputing that the author could not have had first hand direct experience of (long list) – law; places in Italy; courtly interactions; courtly pursuits such as falconry, jousting and entertainments; medicine; Latin and Greek; renaissance art; the classics; patronage of the arts; music; French.

Winkler herself had a delightful riposte to the review, published in the letters page on 1 June. In reference to Bate’s assumption that the author is ignorant of Venice’s canals, she mused “What does he think the gondolas mentioned in those plays travel upon?”. She challenges his assertion that Shakespeare’s plays exhibit “detailed technical knowledge of glove-making” (quoting Bate’s review), pointing out that there are only two references in the plays to gloves and wondering at his ignoring “vast scholarship detailing, for instance, the author’s familiarity with Italy and knowledge of the law”. She finishes her letter with a suggestion to Professor Bate to consider the view of Carol Symes, a historian interviewed in Winkler’s book who said “I think it’s unethical for a group of scholars to be confronted with perfectly plausible evidence and to refuse to consider it.”

On 9 June The Telegraph published a further letter responding to Bate’s review, penned by the eminent actors Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Mark Rylance. The letter featured a burning effigy of the Droeshout portrait, which ironically was used to celebrate “Shakespeare’s 450th birthday” in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2014.

The letter applauded The Telegraph for publishing a review of Winkler’s book but pointed out that the review seems “to misunderstand the purpose of Ms Winkler’s book, which is serious investigative journalism into a taboo subject” and drew attention to the book’s subtitle, ironically proved in some of the reviews! It reminded Professor Bate that Nabakov, who Bate quotes, himself had authorship doubts and that “so much real scholarship has been devoted to the authorship question that it cannot any longer be brushed aside so lightly.”

Delightfully on page 3 of the same edition of the paper there appeared an article entitled Rylance: Will the real William Shakespeare please stand up?. Anita Singh, Arts and Entertainment Editor wrote a feature piece about the two knights’ letter, mentioning that Winkler’s book includes an interview with Rylance and also with Sir Stanley Wells and quoting from both interviews. It included a photo spread of Rylance in The Tempest, along with portraits of four authorship candidates (including the Earl of Oxford) under the description “Pen portraits Suspected helping hands”.

Points lost: Getting someone biased to review the book.

Points gained: Publishing letters of response from Winkler, along with Sir Derek and Sir Mark; doing a feature article on the latter response.

Bonus points: Great pictures accompanying the ripostes, including one of the Earl of Oxford.

Overall score: 7/10.


The Spectator

On 3 June The Spectator published a review by Professor Emma Smith entitled Shakespeare sceptics are the new literary heroes along with the sub-title Anyone who doubts Shakespeare’s authorship is brave, open-minded and intellectually explorative, compared to the uptight, shifty ‘Stratfordians’ in Elizabeth Winkler’s view. Accompanying the review was a portrait of Edward de Vere with the following words beneath: “Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, one of many candidates proposed as the author of Shakespeare’s plays.”

Perhaps someone doing the editing for this piece was having fun because if you were to leave out the words “in Elizabeth Winkler’s view” in the sub-title and substitute “the principal alternative candidate” for “one of the many candidates” in the wording under the portrait, the title and accompanying picture and wording would amount to a paean to Oxfordians and their (often heroic) efforts to stand up to jaded and backward establishment thinking.

Smith begins by referring to “widespread disinformation”, including in Winkler’s book. (Note I have searched the review for examples of the alleged disinformation and have found none) and launches into the Stratfordian trope of Shakespeare was Shakespare by referring to historical evidence from the period that “attributes the plays and poems to William Shakespeare”. Ah we know that! What us Shakespeare doubters are banging our heads off the wall trying to convey is that ‘William Shakespeare’ is a pen name, not that the plays and poems don’t belong to the writer using that pen name.

Smith refers to a “mass of documentation” to show “all this evidence” that the Stratford man is William Shakespeare (who are you kidding Ms Smith!!! Have you not read Diana Price?!!); questioners are “anti-expert” and their “bias” is comparable to “conspiracy theories, to anti-vax campaigns or Holocaust denial.” Cripes, can you not respond with evidence – oops there’s none when you scratch the surface – rather than slurs?

Smith says that “Reviewing this engaging and wrong-headed book is thus a challenge”. I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement and that it was a testing endurance for Smith to read this investigatory work that is so well written, laying out copious evidence and doing so in a way that is fun and engaging. Smith lets herself down badly with such sentences as “Details are key to the quasi-forensic work of authorship denial!” Is Smith, a professor of English and a scholar, suggesting that details are unimportant and that being forensic in one’s analysis of the available literary and historical evidence is not acceptable behaviour? Such “details” (including one alluded to by Smith: the copious references to the hyphenation of “Shakespeare”, i.e. “Shake-speare” during the the 1590s, suggesting the use of a pen name) become “an insubstantial niggle” which in turn becomes “the glare on the visor that proves the moon landings were staged, or the untraced Fiat Uno at the scene of Diana’s death”. What a leap – if I wasn’t so used to enduring similar frantic hyperbole from arch Stratfordians defending the faith I’d be reaching for the smelling salts!

In fairness to Smith, she does concede that “Winkler’s prose is readable and often witty, landing some good blows” – another understatement: I would substitute “highly” for “often” and “excellent” for “good”.

Smith snatches with relish what she sees as some kind of a baton offered by Winkler in the latter’s introduction to the authorship question: in the opening page of her book, Winkler humorously describes the particular opprobrium with which this vexed question is treated in literary circles – “A whip may be produced”. Smith considers that Winkler expresses herself thusly with “sado-masochistic frisson”; Winkler’s brilliant and strained interview with Sir Stanley Wells is described as “frigid” and Stratfordians are “uptight” (reminder these are Smith’s words and I have to say it is a rather accurate if understated description of the Stratfordian response to the authorship question!).

Although Smith has commended Winkler’s “prose”, she denounces it too when that same prose evokes for the reader the exquisite and perennially fleeting experience of being right there in the very moment being described, something that rigorous yet apparently effortless writing has the capacity to do. In a lovely moment that had me salivating and reminiscing back to Enid Blyton books filled with picnics and midnight feasts, Winkler describes the munificent hospitality of Alexander Waugh (a famous and hugely respected Oxfordian and chair of our DVS) and his wife Eliza. Both Smith and the reader of Winkler’s book cannot but notice the stark contrast between this warm encounter and the prior strained meeting between Winkler and Wells in which the conversation is not even “lubricated” (Smith again) by a cup of tea (what would Mrs. Doyle think?!), Winkler declining the perfunctory offering of the “British peacemaker” because Wells himself declared he was not partaking. Winkler’s description of the Waughs’ dining table groaning under the weight of “venison, courgettes, omelette, sausages and salad” is censured by Smith as “oddly specific” and then unable to stop embarrassing herself, Smith digs further, describing this scene “as if the Very Hungry Caterpillar had joined a Chapter of QAnon”. You can almost smell the rage steaming off the page.

Smith quotes Winkler without giving full context and then classifies her own misrepresentation as “portentous” remarks by Winkler. Oxfordians are very familiar with Alexander Waugh’s astute discovery back in 2013 of a reference in a 1595 book of Edward de Vere’s secret authorship of Shakespeare1. There are a number of elements to this surreptitious declaration in William Covell’s Polimanteia, being the positioning of the margin note ‘Sweet Shak-speare’ alongside the words ‘courte-deare-verse’, which Waugh realised was a perfect anagram of ‘our-de-vere a secret’. Right above these words was the word ‘Oxford’, which ostensibly is a reference to the University of Oxford (Covell’s essay is for the purpose of praising the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the Inns of Court, along with their alumni – of course we know the Earl of Oxford attended all these). Smith’s scorning of Winkler’s point – that no scholar has managed to explain the anagram – ignores these numerous contexts – details even – that are really key to Waugh’s discovery. But of course Smith has already snubbed authorship skeptics’ interest in mere “details”.

Smith considers that the book “toggles between the grandiose and the banal. On the one hand this is a book on a grand scale with ambitions to engage with questions of evidence, free speech, social coercion and groupthink. On the other, it is a bathetic series of inconclusive and inconsequential fragments, built on pantomimically admiring or denigrating character sketches”. Unfortunately Smith fails to see that she herself is doing the very thing she accuses Winkler of. Her review fails to remain level headed and reaches towards pantomime. And the superior tone laden with sarcasm throughout, as well as the obvious contempt for any movement questioning authorship denigrates those exploring the question – the book is “wrongheaded”, based on an “irrational premise” and Winkler is aligned with an “anti-expert movement”. It is Smith herself who is serving up the “binary message”: Stratfordians are the experts and those questioning authorship are to be treated with ridicule. Of course Oxfordians are very familiar with this form of projection and Smith will not be the last to partake thusly.

Smith further criticises Winkler for not identifying an alternative candidate to Stratford Will, completely missing the point of the book. Shockingly, after all the maligning of those who have the temerity to question Shakepeare, Smith ends her review with a shrug of the shoulders as to who the author really is.

All in all, a very bad faith review by Smith, one that will not age well.

A crisp and to the point letter by Winkler was published in response to the review, rounded off by honing in on Smith’s conclusion. Winkler writes – “She concludes by wondering ‘Who cares?’ about the author anyway. This show of indifference has long been the last line of defence for scholars who otherwise seem to care quite a lot. No one has to care, of course, but a scholar who doesn’t has abandoned all pretence to scholarship”. Ouch!

Points lost: Getting someone biased to review the book. Further points lost for the absurdity and inappropriateness of references to QAnon, fake moon landings and the alleged sighting of another vehicle at the site of Princess Diana’s death.

Points gained: Publishing a response from Winkler.

Bonus points: Editorial decision opting for a great headline and picture of the Earl of Oxford.

Overall score: 6/10.


The Guardian

On 18 June The Guardian published a review, simply entitled Shakespeare Was a Woman and Other Heresies review – in search of the bard, by Stephanie Merritt, a literary critic and writer who sometimes goes under the pseudonym S. J. Parris. Now that’s a good start – someone who is not a professor of English and has real life experience of not using one’s own name when publishing work! Accompanying the review was a zeitgeisty AI generated androgynous image of Shakespeare complete with pointy beard and feminine eyes – very Droeshout with a hint of Chandos.

Merritt began by referring to Winkler’s piece for The Atlantic and the trolling she received as a result. Winkler’s curiosity about this reaction is what led to the book and by providing this context, the review gives a real sense of Winkler’s personal motivations. Merritt mentions the very important fact that “many Renaissance texts, produced for an age that delighted in puns, anagrams and allusion, can be read to support whatever meaning you wish to project on them”. Rather than give a few underdog anti-Stratfordian examples (sooooo many to choose from) and further detail as to Winkler’s evidence for dissociating Hamlet from the Stratford man’s son (named Hamnet apparently after his neighbours Hamnet and Judith Sadler), she instead remarked “Winkler can be guilty of this herself at times: early on, she contests the idea that ‘Hamlet’ has any connection to the Stratford man’s son: ‘What parent would memorialise their dead child as a depressed man who contemplates suicide and the murder of his uncle, before being murdered himself?’, rather ignoring the fact that, viewed from a different angle, ‘Hamlet’ is very much a play about fathers and sons.”

Whilst not criticising Winkler’s approach, Merritt states “Her conclusion may seem a cop-out to anyone looking for a definitive answer: she leans on Keats’ definition of ‘negative capability’ – the possibility of living with uncertainty.”

Merritt rounds off this short review with three sentences that deliver a punch: “The one certainty is that there are a great many influential people and institutions whose livelihoods and reputations depend on not questioning the solitary genius of the glover’s son from Stratford. In tackling the subject head-on, with an open mind, Winkler has produced a thoughtful and persuasive contribution to the debate, whose irreverence is part of its appeal. Let’s see whether her opponents choose to attack the arguments or the writer.”

On 27 June, The Guardian published a follow up interview of Winkler by David Smith, Washington DC bureau chief entitled ‘It was shocking’: the author under fire for doubting Shakespeare. Part of this interview reads like a review of the book. Smith accurately describes Winkler’s “lucid and light-footed approach to the subject” and states that it’s not a “polemical book”. Instead that “it brings a journalist’s eye to the controversy, zipping between highbrow philosophical debates around the nature of knowledge – how can we be truly certain about anything? – to the more prosaic and petty squabbles of academics with skin in the game”. Smith distils what he considers are “three compelling arguments in the book”, being “tying the authorship question to the rise and fall of imperial Britain and its need for national mythmaking; exploring how Shakespeare was turned into a secular god, with theatre filling the vacuum left by the decline of the church; and challenging the basic human need to cling to belief when doubt might be the proper response”.

In the interview Elizabeth states “The psychology of belief is a big part of the book, but what interested me was that it is about these bigger issues of authority and belief and certainty and the problem of history, how we interpret and construct the past. That’s what excites me about it. The authorship question actually stands for something much larger.”

The interview continues with further gems of insights from Winkler gleaned from various meetings with Shakespeare scholars.

Bizarrely, Smith feels the need to question whether it is “still possible, or wise to challenge the status quo in a particular field in the era of Donald Trump, anti-vaxxers and QAnon Elon Musk, Robert F Kennedy”. Leaving aside the sanctimoniousness displayed in this comment, not to mention the implicit demonisation of anyone who might have views on these matters that are opposite to, or simply more nuanced than, Smith’s, there is the extraordinary inference here that one should simply roll over and accept establishment thinking without question because to do otherwise might be seen to be encouraging other agitators on matters unrelated to Shakespeare.

It feels, reading the piece that Winkler is teetering on a dangerous brink – it’s like Smith is weighing up whether questioning of Shakespeare authorship falls into the ‘correct’ form of questioning or the ‘incorrect’ form of questioning.

However he quotes Winkler liberally from his interview and thus the reader gains insight into the wider context of the Shakespeare authorship question.

Points lost: Review was too short and Merritt should have elaborated further on her point about hidden allusions in Renaissance texts.

Points gained: Giving some background on the abuse Winkler was subjected to prior to embarking on the book; hitting the nail on the head with the final punchlines.

Bonus points: The AI generated image really draws the eye to the review and has a meta quality to it – current as well as capturing Shakespeare’s treatment of the unity of masculine and feminine. The follow up interview by David Smith gives further insights into Winkler’s thinking behind the book and its reception.

Overall score: 9/10.


The Times

The Times did not publish a review as such, opting instead for a screed by Oliver Kamm, well known in anti-Stratfordian circles for his frequent invective on this subject. On 3 July, the column Thunderer was authored by Kamm and entitled We must denounce insidious theories about Shakespeare. He took issue with Winkler’s book, describing it as “a farrago of wounded pride, sly insinuation of mystery where there is none, and a feeble grasp of sources, dates and facts”. Like Emma Smith, he issues a general denouncement of evidence forwarded, whilst simultaneously failing to dismantle any of the facts raised by Winkler. The piece, rather, is laden with lambasting language – “weirdly”, “hoary fallacy”, “denialist”, “misconception”, “farrago”, “conspiracy”, “calumnous bilge”’, “anti-democratic”, “irrationalist” and of course the egregious “Holocaust denier” (in reference to a dubious pronouncement on another person who dared raise the subject of Shakespeare authorship).

Following swiftly on the heels of this piece was a page and a half spread complete with pictures entitled Who was the Bard? Our expert separates the fact from the fiction. It was published by The Times on 7 July and authored by none other than Jonathan Bate, who of course did the earlier review for The Guardian. The pictures include a drawing of Emilia Bassano, a still from the film All is True with Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare, a still from the filmShakespeare in Love with Rupert Everett as Christopher Marlowe and finally a drawing of Ben Jonson.

The piece begins by mentioning Winkler’s article for The Atlantic and then her book. Bate laments “As a historian of the theatre, for years I have been bombarded by messages from amateur sleuths claiming that they alone have cracked the code of the biggest cover-up in literary history”. He adds “Sometimes they are motivated by snobbery – it must have been a posh boy – and sometimes by a love of conspiracy theories”. How about being motivated by simply wanting to get to the truth of it all Professor Bate?!

Bate proceeds in the piece looking at various questions, “The facts” (as he sees them) and then attributing a “Plausibility rating” to each question highlighted in red ink. First up – Was Shakespeare a woman? This gets 0/10. Next question – Was Shakespeare just an actor? Bate asserts “There are many contemporary references to Shakespeare as both an actor and a writer. For example, his friendly rival Ben Jonson spoke about his writing techniques (not always flatteringly!) and a local Stratford writer Leonard Digges said: ‘First, that he was a Poet none would doubt’.” Bate is referring to a line from commendatory verses by Digges included in an edition of Shakespeare’s poems, published by Jon Benson in 1640, five years after Digges had died. And who is Digges referring to – the writer or the person from Stratford? We have no evidence that Digges was personally acquainted with the Stratford man. Bates gives a 0/10 to Stratford Shax doing “Acting only” and 10/10 to his being “Actor-writer”.

On the question of Was Shakespeare an ignoramus?, Bate asserts that university educated Robert Greene was furious with Shakespeare and called him an “upstart crow”, jealous that he was more successful. Well can I remind Professor Bate that the name Shakespeare hadn’t even come on the scene at the time of Greene’s comment. And the evidence points to Greene rather referring to Edward Alleyn the actor. Bate makes the extraordinary claim that Shakespeare’s plays “are far less learned than those of Jonson and George Chapman, neither of whom went to university. The level of learning in Shakespeare’s plays precisely corresponds to that of a grammar-school boy – such as the one called William in the Latin lesson scene in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’.” Bate gives Shakespeare a 5/10 for Ignoramus rating relative to other dramatists.

To Was Shakespeare an aristocrat? Bate gives a rating of 0/10. To Was Shakespeare Christopher Marlowe?, he gives 0/10. To Was Shakespeare a tourist?, he gives a rating of 3/10 for the reason that “It is..just possible that early in his career he was – as some of his fellow actors certainly were – in a touring company that played at Elsinore in Denmark.”

In the next question Was Shakespeare bisexual? Bate shoves in an unrelated question “Was Shakespeare’s true identity Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, both a womainser and a paedophile?” Note how Bate gets a horrible dig at the Earl of Oxford without directly addressing his authorship as one of his redlined questions? He states “Elizabethan sonnets were playful exercises more often that they were autobiographical statements, though when in Sonnet 136 Shakespeare writes ‘my name is Will’ that is pretty clear evidence of his identity.” This question gets a 7/10 plausibility rating. I’d like to think that Bate is unconsciously answering the second of his two questions posed here.

In response to the final question – Was Shakespeare a committee? – Bate refers to Shakespeare working with George Peele, Thomas Middleton and John Fletcher and that latest scholarship suggests that “there are elements of collaboration in more than a dozen of the 43 plays in which he seems to have had a hand.” This gets a plausibility rating 13/43.

Despite a slew of indignant letters to The Times (four of which are copied below) about Kamm and Bate’s treatment of the book, none were published. The reader is left with the impression that someone high up in this newspaper has no truck with anyone questioning Shakespeare.

Points lost: No review. No letters in response to the two ugly attack pieces. No fact checking.

Points gained: none.

Bonus points: none.

Overall score: 0/10.


The Irish Times

On 5 August The Irish Times published a review by Bill Leahy of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick.

Accompanying the review was a photo of the so-called Danby portrait of Shakespeare. Leahy begins by referring to Winkler’s piece in The Atlantic. He makes the salient point that “Given the pervasive acknowledgment that many women had historically been erased from the production of creative works for which they were at least partially responsible and the knowledge that women in order to publish had to use male pseudonyms at certain times – think of the Brontes, George Eliot et al – one would have thought that Winkler’s ideas were worth consideration. Not so, it seems.”

Leahy proceeds to give some background on the abuse received by Winkler after the publication of her article and elucidates on what is the Shakespeare authorship question. He draws the important distinction between “not that this Shakespeare of Stratford could not have written the plays, but rather that there is no evidence that he did”.

He points out that Shakespeare’s “name did not appear on some plays experts attribute to him and does appear on others that they agree are not written by him.”

Leahy then gives an excellent summary of what Winkler is doing and the impact it has: “In her book, Winkler sets about trying to understand why this literary/historical question is conceptualised as a moral one by doing what all good journalists do. Namely, she informs herself of the subject and then goes out into the field and interviews many of those concerned. These interviews allow the story to truly take off, and it is where Winkler contributes something refreshingly new to this subject.”

Leahy notes that the interviews with post-Stratfordians (which Leahy helpfully defines for those unfamiliar with the Shakespeare authorship question as “those who believe it unlikely that Shakespeare wrote the plays”) are “full of energy, passion, good humour and a clearly profound love of the plays and poems”, whereas those with Stratfordians are “very strange, for these giants of orthodox Shakespeare scholarship come across as evasive, unfocused, impatient and perhaps most surprisingly, as incurious.”

Leahy finishes up by noting that “What Winkler does reveal is a field of study peopled by scholars satisfied they have established the truth and unwilling to have their views questioned. But knowledge is, of course, dynamic and change will come despite this reticence.”

In response to the review a letter was published on 8 August. An A Murphy (who appears not to have read the book) states “The book by all accounts indulges those knaves known as Shakespeare ‘truthers’ who dispute Will’s authorship of his plays and poems, while it ‘just asks questions’ of the lily-livered mainstream scholars who think said theorists are brainsick.” The review finishes with a warning – “If The Irish Times continues to uncritically platform such foppery it will be hoist on its own petard”.

Leahy’s swift response was published on 9 August, noting that the letter writer “demonstrates precisely the sort of prejudice the book attempts to address” and that “The letter writer is clearly not up to date with developments in Shakespeare studies. All Shakespeare scholars now accept at the very least that the Stratford man did not write all of the plays and did not write many of them alone. As Mark Twain wrote: ‘ it is not what we don’t know that troubles us; it is what we know but isn’t so’.”

Points lost: None, although it would have been nice if more attention could have been drawn by the newspaper to the review, tucked away in the Books section of the weekend magazine.

Points gained: A very comprehensive review with good background information for those unfamiliar with the question.

Bonus points: Publishing a riposte from Leahy to the cranky letter.

Overall score: 8.5/10.


Samples of letters to The Times (contact details not included here)

Dear Sir/Madam,

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio and I was very interested to read the Thunderer in today’s paper, written by Oliver Kamm.

His vituperative attack on some of our best loved actors, Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi, and the inaccurate reporting of the event at Middle Temple Hall have to be answered.

The two knights, much lauded for their work on stage and in film of Shakespeare’s canon are, like many before them, doubters of the true authorship.
The list includes High Court Judges, famous actors, authors and playwrights, doctors and statesmen. Then there is Sigmund Freud and I could list many more who do not think that the man from Stratford wrote the plays, or indeed anything.

Later in the article, I believe he is referring to myself as the “the event’s organiser angrily revealed himself etc,” when he writes about the Middle Temple event. This wholly wrong and untrue. I never at any time said that I was an Oxfordian.
Indeed I was never angry, something that Mr Kamm is and his email exchange with me after the event accused us of promoting ”a spurious antisemitic conspiracy theory”. The exchange on his part was very angry indeed.

The book he refers to, written by Elizabeth Winkler, “Shakespeare was a Woman and other Heresies” is a very well thought out, impartial, amusing and interesting look at the Shakespeare authorship conundrum. The outright refusal by scholars to properly discuss, debate or look outside the box that is their bread and butter and their religion, shows that indeed there is fascinating mystery to be unravelled. The book is a very good read. A surprising one and thought provoking.

I fear that Mr Kamm has not read her book but is criticising an article in the Atlantic, written in 2019 that he must have read. furthermore understand that James Shapiro refused be interviewed for the book.
Ms Winkler can speak for herself, but I take offence at his jibe of a “farrago of wounded pride “, “and a feeble grasp of sources, dates and facts.” this is false.

I hope that you will allow me to defend myself. Yours,

Richard Clifford London


Dear Editors,

Oliver Kamm’s fear of “genteel dialogue” on the Shakespeare authorship question (July 3, 2023) reflects his ignorance (perhaps willful?) of ample documentary evidence that people in Shakespeare’s own time suspected the author’s name was a pseudonym. Which is why many skeptics do not think any “conspiracy” was needed. Nor do we claim “all evidence … was … destroyed or lost.”

The evidence that “Shakespeare” was a pseudonym is actually in plain sight, and if Kamm and others would like to read up on it, see Bryan Wildenthal’s 2019 book “Early Shakespeare Authorship Doubts.”

Kamm seems to think that playing along with a pseudonym in Shakespeare’s First Folio, by a master of ambiguity like Ben Jonson, amounts to “lying.” Kamm surely knows literary scholars agree that Shakespeare’s time was a golden age of pen names, which still are a familiar literary tradition. Would he castigate JK Rowling or Samuel Clemens for “lying” when they wrote under the pseudonyms “Robert Galbraith” and “Mark Twain”?

Sincerely, Kathryn Sharpe Seattle


Dear Sirs
I was saddened, though not surprised, to read Oliver Kamm’s piece for THUNDERER – July 3 –

entitled “We must denounce insidious theories about Shakespeare”.

Unlike the book referred to in the piece – Elizabeth Winkler’s “Shakespeare Was a Woman and Other Heresies – How Doubting the Bard Became the Biggest Taboo in Literature”, Kamm’s piece was anything but a rational and level headed analysis of the question of Shakespeare authorship. Words and expressions like “weirdly”, “hoary fallacy”, “denialists”, “misconceptions”, “farrago”, “conspiracy”, “calumnious bilge”, “anti-democratic” and “irrationalist” jumped out, greatly reflecting the thesis of the sub-title of Winkler’s book.

I was further saddened to read the one and half page spread penned by Jonathan Bate – July 7 – entitled “Who was the Bard? Our expert separates the fact from the fiction” and particularly at the lack of fact checking conducted prior to publication.

It states that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford was a paedophile. This is a gross and vile accusation. Anyone who has studied the biography of Oxford, which Bate must be somewhat familiar with, knows that after Oxford confessed to Queen Elizabeth I that he, along with three other men had made profession of the Catholic religion, he was then accused by two of those men Henry Howard and Charles Arundell of a slew of activities, one of these being pederasty. The third man Francis Southwell stated in response to that accusation that he “cannot accuse my lord [Oxford] with pedication [pederasty].”

To extract from those known facts that the Earl of Oxford was a ‘paedophile’ indicates a lack of scholarship on the part of Professor Bate and a desire, like Kamm, to dampen any debate on Shakespeare authorship.

Bate also writes that “Elizabethan sonnets were playful exercises more often than they were autobiographical statements”. Well not everyone reading Shakespeare’s sonnets including such profundity as “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes / I all alone beweep my outcast state” agrees with that unsubstantiated assertion.

Yours sincerely

Rosemary Loughlin Dublin

Lawyer, actor and playwright, whose one woman show on her journey with Shakespeare and the Earl of Oxford “A Rose by Any Other Name” debuted at Edinburgh Fringe 2022


Dear Times,

You have published two articles (by men) attacking Elizabeth Winkler’s book either directly or indirectly.

Have you allowed Elizabeth Winkler to respond and defend herself against the grotesque charges made against her, esp. in the first article by Kamm—or to address the mistakes in the second article, “Who was Shakespeare”?

Or are The Times gentlemen afraid of the young lady? That seems to be the case.

Waiting to see you pluck up your courage, do the right thing, treat her fairly, and let her address your blow-back.

If this lopsided reporting can not be corrected, that is, in itself, of interest. Waiting to see how much courage The Times gentlemen can muster…. Sincerely Yours,

Elisabeth Waugaman, PhD